Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
27 November 2020

India Has Highest Bribery Rate in Asia


 
 
 NEW DELHI, Nov 27: India has the highest bribery rate in Asia and the most number of people who use personal connections to access public services, according to a new report by corruption watchdog Transparency International.

 The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) Asia, found that nearly 50 per cent of those who paid bribes were asked to, while 32 per cent of those who used personal connections said they would not receive the service otherwise.

The report is based upon the survey which was conducted between June 17 and July 17 this year in India with a sample size of 2,000.

“With the highest bribery rate (39 per cent) in the region, India also has the highest rate of people using personal connections to access public services (46 per cent),” the report said.

Bribery in public services continues to plague India. Slow and complicated bureaucratic process, unnecessary red tape and unclear regulatory frameworks force citizens to seek out alternate solutions to access basic services through networks of familiarity and petty corruption, the report said.

“Both national and State governments need to streamline administrative processes for public services, implement preventative measures to combat bribery and nepotism, and invest in user-friendly online platforms to deliver essential public services quickly and effectively,” the report said.

Although reporting cases of corruption is critical to curbing the spread, a majority of citizens in India (63 per cent) think that if they report corruption, they will suffer retaliation, it said.

In India, 89 per cent think government corruption is a big problem, 18 per cent offered bribes in exchange for votes.

About 63 per cent of surveyed people think the government is doing well in tackling corruption while 73 per cent said their anti-corruption agency is doing well in the fight against corruption, it said.

Based on fieldwork conducted in 17 countries, the GCB surveyed nearly 20,000 citizens in total.

Cape Clean - India's Top Facade and Window Cleaning

Percentage of Population with Internet Access in India statewise as of June 2020




 

16 November 2020

Aadhaar PVC: One Person Can Order For Whole Family With One Mobile Number

 

You can use any mobile number to receive OTP for authentication, regardless of the registered mobile number in your Aadhaar. (@UIDAI)
You can use any mobile number to receive OTP for authentication, regardless of the registered mobile number in your Aadhaar. (@UIDAI)

UIDAI launched the Aadhaar in the form of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) card in October.

UIDAI launched the Aadhaar in the form of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) card in October this year. Just like your debit or credit card or PAN card, you will be able to carry the PVC Aadhaar card in your wallet. UIDAI puts it as ,"Loaded with the latest security features, your Aadhaar is now more durable, convenient to carry, instantly verifiable offline." UIDAI allows residents of India to get their Aadhaar letter reprint on PVC card by paying nominal charges of 50. Residents who do not have registered mobile number can also order using non-registered or any alternate mobile number. In fact, one person can order Aadhaar PVC cards online for the whole family, using his or her mobile number.

UIDAI in a recent tweet wrote, "You can use any mobile number to receive OTP for authentication, regardless of the registered mobile number in your Aadhaar. So, one person can order Aadhaar PVC cards online for the whole family. Follow the link https://residentpvc.uidai.gov.in/order-pvcreprint to order now."

Here's the tweet:


How to order PVC Aadhaar card?

> Go to the link: https://residentpvc.uidai.gov.in/order-pvcreprint

> Fill in your Aadhaar Number or Virtual Identification Number or EID to order Aadhaar card.

Aadhaar card comes with security features i.e. Digitally signed Secure QR code, Hologram, Ghost image, Guilloche pattern etc.

> Click on 'send OTP.' You can order Aadhaar card using your registered mobile number or Alternate mobile number to receive OTP.

> Aadhaar preview is available on use of registered mobile only. Preview of Aadhaar card details is not available for Non-registered mobile based Order.

> Time-Based-One-Time-Password (TOTP) can also be used via m-Aadhaar Application.

> After submitting the OTP, you will need to make the required payment and your PVC Aadhaar reprint will be ordered.

07 October 2020

Glock Pistols For Indian Citizens

 The Tamil Nadu company has now set a target to sell the pistols to civilians by the end of March 2021.

By Tanmay Chatterjee

The Glock is sold to citizens in many countries, including the USA.

The Glock is sold to citizens in many countries, including the USA. (Courtesy- https://eu.glock.com/en)

Currently serving with the military, police and special forces in more than 70 nations, including India, America, England and France, the famous polymer-frame Glock pistols from Austria may soon be available to Indian citizens in non-service calibres.

In 2019, the Tamil Nadu-based Counter measures technologies pvt. ltd. (CMT) and Glock Ges.m.b.H, Austria, entered into a partnership to produce the pistols at the CMT plant in Tiruvallur district, which is part of the state’s defence industrial corridor planned by the Centre.

The joint venture was initially signed for supplying Glocks only to the government. With permission from the Centre, CMT has now set a target to sell the pistols to civilians by the end of March 2021, one of the Indian company’s directors and major shareholder, Jayakumar Jayarajan, told HT.

For India’s civilian arms market, the arrival of the Glock will be a game changer, stakeholders feel. The pistol is sold to citizens in many countries, including the USA.

“The Covid-19 lockdown delayed our project by more than six months. We are trying to pick up speed. Our first priority is to supply the 9 mm pistols to the armed forces. Civilians will get the .22 LR, .380, .357 Sig, .40 and .45 calibre pistols. We have permission to set up our own proof testing facility,” said Jayarajan.

“A team from Glock landed in Chennai in January 2019 and flew to Delhi to meet Union defence ministry officials after visiting our site. In the delegation was a man who was part of the team that helped the designer, Gaston Glock, make the first pistol in 1981,” said Jayarajan.

Today, Glock produces fifth generation pistols with competitors following its polymer technology.

In India, the majority of licensed firearms owners are saddled with old or antiquated foreign handguns imported before 1984 or the ones being made by government ordnance factories. The erstwhile Congress government at the Centre banned import of all types of firearms in 1984, giving exemptions only to national and international shooters and state agencies.

Though out of reach of India’s gun owners till now, the world’s first military service pistol to sport a light polymer frame and trigger safety feature, is a familiar name to the nation.

A 9 mm Glock 26 compact pistol was the only weapon wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was armed with when he was captured in Pakistan in February 2019 after the Balakot air strikes.

Glocks also went into action with National Security Guard (NSG) commandos during the terror attack on Pathankot air force base in 2016 and in other operations.

“We support any initiative that promotes the ‘Make in India’ programme and moves us closer to an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-sufficient India),” said Delhi-based Abhijeet Singh, spokesperson for National association for gun rights India (NAGRI), the only pan-nation organisation fighting for liberal gun laws for citizens.

Prakash Simson, owner of Simson gun house in Mangalore, Karnataka, said, “Indians still pay a premium price for 50 or 70-year-old handguns because of their reliability. The India-made Glocks have to meet people’s expectations. But before that, the government must ensure that law-abiding citizens get gun licence without being caught in red tape for years. If licences are not issued there will no market. The companies will wind up their business.”

A gun owner and sports enthusiast, Yuvraj Yograjsinh of Mansa, Gujarat, said, “Glocks are not made in .32 ACP which is the most popular pistol calibre in India because the ammunition is made by our ordnance factory, the other one being .22 LR. Ammunition for the rest of the calibres being offered to civilians by CMT is not made here. Imported ammunitions are frightfully expensive. This needs to be addressed first.”

Jayarajan said CMT has been given permission to manufacture ammunition of all calibres, ranging from the small .22 LR to the 12.7 x 108 mm heavy machine-gun cartridge used by the army. “We plan to make the ammunition factory operational by the end of 2021,” he said. 

 

Source: Hindustan Times

‘You run a banana republic channel’: Rajdeep Sardesai attacks Arnab Goswami on live TV

 

‘This is not what journalism is about.’

12 March 2020

How Riots are Affecting Circumcision in India

Medical procedure strikes fear in mother


By Joyjit Ghosh in Calcutta

Protesters carry a national flag during a rally against the citizenship act in Calcutta on Thursday. (AP)

February 2020, New Delhi: A journalist with a Hindi news portal was assaulted in riot-hit Maujpur in northeast Delhi and forced to drop his pants to check if he was circumcised. Rioters in Maujpur had also threatened to take the pants off a photojournalist to confirm his religion before he was let off.

Last Sunday, the unspeakable depravity that unfolded on the streets of Ahmedabad and Delhi gate-crashed a doctor’s cabin in Calcutta and preyed on a mother’s worst fears.

The paediatric surgeon, Subhasis Saha, had conducted a procedure called circumcision on the woman’s child for medical, not religious, reasons.

The surgeon had explained to the family, who does not belong to any religion that mandates circumcision, that surgeries for phimosis are performed through either of the two procedures — circumcision or preputioplasty.

“Preputioplasty helps retain the foreskin which is lost in the case of circumcision. But preputioplasty is far more challenging than getting rid of the foreskin. It involves curing the foreskin, saving it and ensuring that the situation does not recur warranting another procedure later,” the surgeon explained.
That Sunday, the surgeon had to perform two surgeries for phimosis in the Calcutta hospital. “Both the patients were from a community that doesn’t mandate the procedure. For one child, I could undertake preputioplasty. However, for absolute medical reasons, circumcision was the only way out for the other kid,” Saha recounted.

“When I told the child’s mother that I had to opt for circumcision, her face fell,” the surgeon said.
“The woman’s brother told me that his sister was worried about the operation ever since she read reports about the two journalists who were caught in the recent riots and the way they were made to prove their religious identity,” Saha said.

He added: “A socio-political crisis has come to influence a medical intervention.”

“It has not been many days since the northeast Delhi riots, but it has already left an indelible scar on the minds of parents of kids who have been advised surgery for phimosis. The parents are worried because their religion do not require them to undergo the process, but it has to be done for pure medical reasons. They have already worked the Internet and are suggesting that I undertake preputioplasty,” the surgeon added.

For medical reasons, more than 2,000 circumcisions, including on adults, are performed by general surgeons, urologists, paediatric and plastic surgeons every month in Calcutta and its surroundings alone, doctors said, adding that it was a conservative figure.

The Sunday incident does not appear to be an isolated one.

Another doctor who also performs surgeries for phimosis but didn’t want to be named said: “In the past few weeks, a couple of parents have approached me with requests to retain the skin. In our WhatsApp group, doctors are debating this trend with concern.”

Uday Shankar Chatterjee, who pioneered preputioplasty in the city a little over two decades ago, said: “When I had started the procedure, it was about saving the prepuce or foreskin for medical reasons. In the context of the Delhi riots, it gives a new dimension to the procedure.”

A Calcuttan whose son had to undergo the procedure a few years ago recalled: “It was after the Gujarat riots but it did not even occur to me then that what some thugs did there will have any bearing on my child here in Calcutta. My son’s health was my sole concern.”

“When the doctor recommended circumcision for my son, I readily agreed. Now, I think what has happened to our country of late is making us fear that such horrors need not be confined to distant places. They can happen anywhere now,” he added.

Sociologist Surajit C. Mukhopadhyay said: “This shows how innocent people are getting drawn into the vortex of fear and that they are trying to build a defence mechanism in a possible riot situation.”
He pointed out: “The parents are aware that scientific explanation will not wash with the bloodthirsty mob. So, they are trying to keep their children safe.”

Mukhopadhyay added: “People who are not honed into the majority and minority binary are trying to publicly show their allegiance to the majority out of fear. This is almost a reflection of what thousands of Germans did when they displayed their support for the Nazis. Fear has overtaken democracy, and civil edifices are being systematically destroyed. We are being pushed back to an era we had supposedly left long ago.”

Psychologist Mohor Mala Chatterjee echoed Mukhopadhyay. “Such actions of parents show how deep the threat runs. Whether children or adults, the anxiety over the medical process will definitely weigh negatively on their mind.”
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11 March 2020

Asianet News has an interpreter translating every word into Sign Language

Asianet News has an interpreter translating every word into Sign Language...
31 March 2015

India Arrests '1,000 Police Cheats'



Bihar police force: Tens of thousands of people had applied for the latest jobs in Bihar's police force 
Tens of thousands of people had applied for the latest jobs in Bihar's police force

More than 1,000 men have reportedly been arrested in India's Bihar state for impersonating candidates in physical fitness tests for the police.

The men had been hired to pass themselves off as the candidates, according to the state police.
The arrests were made over the last fortnight, as documents produced by the men were found to have been falsified.

Photographs of mass cheating in Bihar's secondary school exams provoked an outcry earlier this month.

More than 300 people, many of them parents, were arrested after the publication of the pictures.
Last year, some 150 people were arrested in Bihar for cheating in a written exam for police constables, Indian media say.

However, a Bihar police official told the Times of India newspaper that the latest round of arrests is the largest ever made for impersonation.

Some 52,000 people were selected for the physical fitness test, according to Indian media, with the state government hoping to recruit around 12,000 police constables from their ranks.
23 March 2015

Delhi to Launch India’s first e-ration card scheme next week

 The scheme links ration and Aadhaar cards with a view to curbing corruption and increasing transparency in the system.


To make it easier for people to avail the service, the govt will also accept other identity proofs

New Delhi, Mar 23
: Delhi will become the first state in the country to launch an e-ration card service which links ration and Aadhaar cards with a view to curbing corruption and increasing transparency in the system. The service will be inaugurated by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal next week, a senior government official said in New Delhi.

“Anybody with an Aadhaar card can apply online for a ration card. Those who are waiting for an Aadhaar card can also apply for a ration card with the Aadhaar card number on the online slip. Ration card will be now linked with Aadhaar card,” the official said, adding that those who do not have access to the Internet can apply at the office of their respective MLAs.

To make it easier for people to avail the service, the government will also accept other identity proofs. “We want to make the system easier so that the maximum number of people can avail the service. Those who don’t have an Aadhaar card can provide some other valid identity proof to apply for ration card,” the official said.

According to a senior officer, although a similar service has been announced by the Punjab and Maharashtra governments, Delhi would be the first to implement it. Through the new service, an applicant can also take the print of his ration card, which will be valid like e-ticket. “We had received many complaints of corruption in the process of distribution of ration cards in Delhi.

We have now brought the entire process online. All the work done in the ration card department can be checked online,” officer said, adding that the digitisation of records will also expose fake or duplicate ration cards. Along with the online ration card, Delhi government will also start issuing temporary Fair Price Shop (FPS)-licences. According to government data, there are around 25,000 FPS in Delhi.

“It takes around three months time to issue and set-up an FPS, which is operated by private players to provide subsided foodgrains. In case of cancellation of any licence, the process of issuing a new one is too lengthy. So, the government will now issue temporary licences in seven days which will be valid for three months,” the official said.
12 March 2015

India's Look East Policy Yet To Translate Into Action

Kolkata, Mar 12 : Finding fault in India's Look East and counter-terrorism policies, experts here on Tuesday stressed upon India's significance in fostering regional cooperation in South Asia.

Participating in a two day conference on 'Building Pan Asian Connectivity', the experts, however, exuded confidence of a change in the scenario following positive steps by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"India's counter-terrorism policy has been criticised by experts on grounds that it concerns only mid and short term responses. Some of the experts have said that it is mired in systematic weaknesses with terrorists having the upper hand," said Julio Amador III, Deputy Director-General, Philippine Foreign Service Institute.

"However, under Modi, counter terrorism is being seen as a key national policy and seems to give renewed attention to terrorism as a security challenge," said Amador.

Observing that most ASEAN members have had problems in effectively collaborating in combating terrorism, Amador said India needs to be consistent in it counter-terrorism policy.

"The onus is on India to coordinate with the ASEAN members to forge closure cooperation in combating terrorism. It also need to consistent in its counter terrorism policy and spell out what it specifically wants from the ASEAN members regarding this," added Amador.

RAND Corporation senior political scientist Jonah Blank said India's Look East policy was yet to translate into action.

"When it comes to Sino-India rivalry in Southeast Asia, China is winning the trade war hands down. Though India's trade relation with ASEAN has improved, it is not very fast. India also lags China far behind in terms of connectivity. Commercial flights from India to the region are sparse," said Blank.

"But with Modi government having fewer political constraints than its predecessors, there are reasons to believe that the present should not be like the past. Modi's engagement with Japan, the US and ASEAN as well with China are very positive signs," added Blank.

Lamenting the lack of connectivity and infrastructural deficiencies, Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia wondered why the north eastern state governments were not made stakeholders in India's Look East policy.

"There is a need for greater inclusive approach. We have extremely poor internal connections with the North East- not only in terms of rail, road or air connectivity but also of services. If you don't have vibrant social services, roads and railways are not going do anything in connecting people," said Hazarika.

"The problem is 60 years down the line, the central government still perceives North East to be a disturbed area. When the governments from here are not stakeholders how can you go ahead with such a policy," said Hazarika.

"The need is to build new generations of politicians, scholars and professionals who can engage more in developing the cooperation. The focus should be more at the micro level initially then we can look at the larger picture," added Hazarika.
24 February 2015

Swine Flu Cases Cross 14,000, 832 Deaths Reported

India reported 20 swine flu (H1N1 virus) deaths on Sunday, taking the death toll to 832 even as the number of cases crossed 14,000.

On Saturday, 38 deaths were reported, the highest number of swine flu deaths in a single day this year.

In 2014, India had 937 swine flu cases and 218 deaths.

This year, Rajasthan is the worst hit, with more than 4,000 cases and 200 deaths have been reported.

Delhi and Gujarat have had more than 2,000 cases each in less than two months.

The Drug Controller General of India G N Singh has directed all states to set up a ‘Swine flu drugs availability monitoring cell’ with a designated officer to monitor there are no drug and vaccine shortages even as some states like Kashmir reported vaccine shortages.

All chemists have also been asked to prominently display availability of medicines.

Experts maintain that H1N1 virus is no more deadlier than last year cases and deaths are being reported simply because more people getting tested and diagnosed. Most deaths are among people over 40 years.

While infection appears to be waning in Telangana, new states such as Jammu and Kashmir are reporting cases.

Kashmir
With one more H1N1 virus infected patient dying on Sunday night, the total number of swine flu deaths in Jammu and Kashmir rose to six on Monday while the number of infected people went up to 120.

"One more H1N1 infected patient died yesterday (Sunday)," Parvaiz Koul, pulmonary disease specialist at the super-specialty Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar, where eight people are currently being treated.

"We have provided sufficient medicines and preventive advisories to the families of patients being treated at home, which include using a face mask and washing hands and cleaning surfaces frequently," he added. "The most important precaution is to avoid social and religious gatherings during these days.”

Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh, which has reported 280 cases and six deaths since January 1, has enough medicines in stock, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Khan informed the State Assembly on Monday.

State capital Lucknow is the worst hit, reporting 228 of the 280 cases from across the state. "There is no need to panic due to swine flu. Those who are saying hundreds have died due to disease are wrong. We have made all the arrangements to deal with it and have sufficient amount of medicines,” said Khan.

The minister said this after the swine flu issue was raised on the assembly floor by BJP suresh Suresh Kumar Khanna ,as the House met, who demanded a statement from the government on rising cases of the virus in the state.
         
West Bengal
Five persons have succumbed to swine flu in West Bengal, with 67 testing positive for it, state Minister for Health Chandrima Bhattacharya told the state Assembly today.

The minister said there is no shortage of medicines and testing kits at hospitals to tackle the spread of the H1N1 virus.

The health department is taking all necessary steps to control the spread of the disease and trying to spread awareness, she said, adding that the virus is not being spread through swine but through the air.

Mizoram
Mizoram has started swine-flu screening and testing all passengers arriving at Lengpui Airport after a woman arriving from Delhi tested positive on February 13.

All passengers arriving with cough and fever are being tested. Mizoram has had one swine flu case and no deaths.
The state Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme's Nodal Officer Pachuau Lalmalsawma said the screening was being conducted after obtaining permission from the Aviation department.

The IDSP officials will also start the screening people arriving in the state at the Mizoram-Assam border Vairengte town soon.

Am isolation ward to treat infection has been created at the Referral Hospital at Falkawn village near Aizawl and a special laboratory for testing has been set up at the Aizawl Civil Hospital.
09 February 2015

What Happens When Top Bureaucrats Visit Their First Posting Locations

By Saubhadra Chatterji and Moushumi Das Gupta

Musahari/Ukhrul/ Kushinagar
: As the car climbs up a hilly road amid the rocky landscape of Manipur, Union land resources secretary Vandana Jena remembers her days here in 1981. “Civic infrastructure, roads were almost non-existent. It was a four hours back-breaking journey to Ukhrul from Imphal. No work in the evening as diesel-generated power went off after 5 pm. There was no water supply either,” she said. Back then Jena was Ukhrul’s sub divisional officer.

Sitting in his first office in Musahari — the birthplace of Naxal movement in Bihar — parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah could easily remember his stint as a young assistant magistrate 34 years ago. The rot in the system, frustrating corruption and lack of civic amenities had haunted people then. “Now, little has changed,” quips Amanullah.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/2/09_02_15-metro10a.jpg
It was a different ‘ghar wapsi’ — or return to the roots — for top-notch bureaucrats last month. As planned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all secretary-level officers working with the central government went back to their first place of posting to review its progress.

The tours (HT accompanied three bureaucrats in as many states) threw up mixed revelations: There was palpable progress in road and tele-connectivity, agriculture and income of villagers. But in many places social infrastructures like school, health-care or toilets still remain in the dark ages.

Eighty-odd secretaries would be giving detail reports to the Prime Minister’s Office on how their first areas of posting fared in development over time.

Information and broadcasting secretary Bimal Julka was happy to see a weaver colony which he had set up in 1981 in Madhya Pradesh’s Ashok Nagar thriving and helping locals generate substantial income. “There were only ramshackle huts. Now almost everyone has pucca house. There is an all-weather road to Guna with a railway over bridge.”

Coal secretary Anil Swarup also has a tale of success to share while visiting  Tamkuhiraj tehsil in UP’s Kushinagar district: “It’s unbelievable to see so many girls cycling to schools. Back in the 80’s, when I was posted in Padrauna, there were just a handful of girls attending schools.” Swarup joined the elite Indian Administrative Service with first posting at UP’s Kushinagar as joint magistrate.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/2/09_02_15-metro10b.jpg
But these policy-makers also find that despite hundreds of government schemes running in paper, there are little or shoddy implementation in most of them.

Amanullah is the only Bihar cadre secretary-level officer now working at the centre. In Narauli, he visits a cluster of Indira Awas Yojna — the scheme for housing for poor — only to find that the entire colony has not a single toilet. Nearby lied Prahladpur, a village where a central grant of `32 lakh went back unspent due to non-utilisation.

Julka too, hardly found toilets as he toured an entire division: “Hygiene and cleanliness was far from satisfactory even in the government offices. School buildings are also in bad shape. There is an acute shortage of doctors and medical staff in local government hospitals and health centres.”

“During our field visit, when we had to stay the night at some village home, we had to go out in the open to attend to nature’s call,” says Jena. She, however, spots many village homes now with a toilet. Similarly, Swarup visited Bandhu Chapra, once notorious for anti-social elements, and finds dramatic changes with pucca roads, a majority of the children going to school, houses under Indira Awas Yojana. “There are tubewells at regular intervals,” said Swarup.

These reports, albeit local stories are likely to give reference points to the PMO while it shapes newer strategies. But in most of the cases, thrust areas of different governments like hygiene and cleanliness, e-governance, employment, etc. still lies in the dim shadow of underdevelopment.
21 January 2015

Jan Dhan Scheme Enters Guinness Books

JAN DHAN


New Delhi: Appreciating the Jan Dhan scheme for setting a Guinness record of opening most number of bank accounts in a week, BJP today lauded the efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the achievement and for inclusion of 11.5 crore poor with country's economy.
BJP also accused the Congress of keeping such people out of the economic reform process for last many decades for their own vested interests and for their "corrupt" practices.
"This shows that 11.5 crore poor have reposed their faith in the Prime Minister and deposited their 9,000 crores in zero-balance accounts under the Jan Dhan scheme, whom Congress kept out of the financial system due to their own vested interests and corrupt practices," BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said.
He said this is a clear indication of the Prime Minister's intent of weeding out corruption and not allowing it to flourish, as during the previous Congress regime.
"A certain section of society was deliberately kept out of the financial system due to Congress' 'mission corruption' and its vested interests of leakages in subsidies and benefiting brokers and middlemen to siphon off public money," he said.
Sharma also lauded Prime Minister's efforts in helping those sections kept away from the financial system to be included now under the scheme, through which the poor will benefit largely.
"This is the result of Modi's vision, good governance and commitment that even World Bank is now predicting that India's economy will grow faster than China's in the coming times," he said.
Financial Services Secretary Hasmukh Adhia earlier said that Guinness Book of World Records has recognised the achievements made under Jan Dhan scheme.
In its citation, the Guinness Book said: "Most bank accounts opened in one week as part of the Financial Inclusion Campaign is 18,096,130 and was achieved by the Department of Financial Services, Government of India from August 23 to 29, 2014."
Announcing the financial inclusion scheme in his first Independence Day speech last year, Modi had set a target to open bank accounts for 7.5 crore poor persons by January 26, 2015. The target was later increased to 10 crore accounts
17 October 2014

Why India is Planning A New Road Near The China Border


An Indian girl poses for photos with an Indian flag at the Indo China border in Bumla at an altitude of 15,700 feet (4,700 meters) above sea level in Arunachal Pradesh, India. India and China disagree over the demarcation of several Himalayan border areas

India has unveiled plans to build a mountain road along the disputed border with China in the country's remote north-east.
The $6.5bn (£4.06bn), 1,800km (1,118 miles) all-weather road will stretch from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh state to where the borders of India and China meet with Myanmar.

The road will connect sparsely populated and poorly-connected hill communities living in four large frontier districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

It will also help farmers in the mountainous region to transport their organic crops and medicinal herbs to low-lying and busy markets in neighbouring Assam state.

"This road will not boost our defences but help connect far flung communities for economic development denied to them for so long," says India's junior home minister Khiren Rijiju, himself a resident of Arunachal Pradesh.

But Indian military officials say the road will help consolidate Indian defences.

This represents a change in Indian military thinking that has so far opposed developing roads near the border, in case it is used by the Chinese during a conflict for speedy movement inside Indian territory.
The road, however, could could ignite fresh tensions between India and China.

The world's two most populous countries disagree over the demarcation of several Himalayan border areas and fought a brief war in 1962.

'Colonial legacy' Chinese foreign office spokesperson Hong Lei has said India's plan may "complicate" the boundary dispute which he described as a "colonial legacy".

"Before a final settlement is reached, we hope that India will not take any actions that may further complicate the situation. We should jointly safeguard the peace and tranquillity of the border area and create favourable conditions for the final settlement of the border issue," he told reporters in Beijing.

Chinese officials say it is not fair of India to undertake such a huge road building project in an area which is still in dispute.

"Once the dispute is resolved and the boundary is clearly demarcated, India can build such roads in its territory, but it would be unfair to build a road in a disputed territory," says Kong Can of the Yunnan Development Research Institute.

He says India should agree to develop the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) highway and economic corridor from Calcutta in India's West Bengal state to Kunming in China's Yunnan province cutting through Bangladesh, India's north-eastern states of Assam and Manipur and Myanmar's northern provinces.

"This highway and economic corridor will help integrate our economies and open huge opportunities for developing our under-developed frontier provinces and create a climate of trust that will help resolve the border dispute," Kong Can said.

India is going slow on the project, so far just agreeing to "explore" its possibilities.

Arunchal Pradesh road Roads in Arunachal Pradesh are poor and make troop movement difficult
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has responded to demands from his security establishment to develop its defences against China, which has reportedly beefed up its military infrastructure in Tibet with a string of new railway lines, roads and at least five new airports.

Also, the rail route to Lhasa is likely to be extended to Nyingchu, close to the Arunachal Pradesh border, Indian military officials say.

"China has vastly beefed up its military infrastructure in Tibet and we are only catching up. Unless we do that, China will always arm-twist us on the border and try to impose a solution on its terms," says Lt Gen JR Mukherjee, former chief of staff in India's eastern army.

Last month India and China pulled back troops after a two-week stand-off near their de facto border in Ladakh. Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting India when India accused his country of the fresh territorial incursion.

Many believe that has added to Indian apprehensions and could have influenced the decision to build the long border road that now upsets China.

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC correspondent and author
26 September 2014

India Invites Thai Businesses To Invest in The Country

Bangkok, Sep 26 : India today invited Thai businesses to invest in the country and said it attaches top priority to the development of the North-East states as it opens a corridor into South-East Asia.

India's Ambassador to Thailand, Harsh Vardhan Shringla referred to various initiatives taken by the new Indian government to take the country's trade and development to a new plateau.

"Opening the North East creates a corridor for us into South East Asia," Shringla told a gathering of Thai commerce ministry officials, trade department representatives, ethnic Indian Thai businessmen and academia on the sidelines of a live telecast function showing Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching "Make in India" campaign.

Those who had gathered to watch the telecast, organised by the Indian Embassy with the assistance of India-Thai Chamber of Commerce, wanted to know about Indian Government's new "Make in India" campaign and developments in India's North-East region.

"We hope to attract Thai investors," Shringla told the assembled gathering.

Prime Minister Modi today launched the "Make in India" initiative in New Delhi to make India a manufacturing hub by attracting foreign companies to set up their manufacturing units.
11 September 2014

Chinese Woman Publishes First-Ever Travelogue On India

Chinese travel writer Hong Mei at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah with her American husband Tom Carter.

Chinese travel writer Hong Mei at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah with her American husband Tom Carter.

The author Hong Mei called it a transformative journey about India's rich and diverse culture

A brush with Bollwood stars, encounters with Maoists besides exposure to election campaigning enlivens the narrative of a rare backpack Chinese woman's transformative journey to the nooks and corners of India. Hong Mei, 34, who travelled India for several months in 2009 along with her American husband, Tom Carter released her travelogue book in Chinese language titled "The further I walk, the closer I get to me", stated to be the first such account by a contemporary Chinese about India.

In many ways it is a transformative journey about India's rich and diverse culture, she told PTI
During the visit, she participated in festivals and events like Kumbh Mela, Pushkar Camel Fair, Holi besides the general elections campaigning in 2009.
Pushed by Tom, who had done a pictorial book along with her on all the 33 provinces of China highlighting its diversity, Hong had relatively comfortable travel in India as she was mostly mistaken as someone from India's North-East provinces or from Japan.
Travelling with a budget of about USD 20 a day, the twohad a good exposure to Indian way of life in the North, South and Western regions.
Tom was chosen as 10th batsman in a cricket match scene in the Bollywood movie Dil Bole Hadippa.
While in Mumbai, Hong had an insightful exposure to 2009 elections as the candidates canvassed in a festive spirit.
For someone hailing from country with a One-Party-rule (Communist Party), it was a spectacle of political harmony.
Both had an enduring experience feeling the heat travelling in areas where Maoists are active in Orissa.
Significantly Hongs accounts of elections as well as her Maoist encounters were edited out of book as authorities in China were cagey about such narratives influencing the Chinese.

Hong Mei poses with a tribal child in Odisha.
The two had close calls travelling to India’s border areas with Pakistan in the Kutch region of Gujarat as well as the Wagah border point on the Indian side of Punjab.
Her best moments in India were taking part in the cultural festivals like Holi and the worst part was she missed her regular intake of food due to excess exposure to vegetarian food in India while Tom fell sick grappling with poor immune system.
Hong said her ground breaking backpacking journey to India illustrates a growing trend among new Chinese middle classes to quit their jobs to hit the roads abroad.
Indian travels in a way impacted her as she says the religious fervour in India had left a mark of influence as she turned spiritual.
She is also thinks that despite trying conditions, Indians appeared happier compared to their Chinese counterparts despite their material success.

10 September 2014

India Set to Import 100,000 Tonnes of Rice From Burma

Burma will supply 100,000 tonnes of rice to India, to meet the need for the commodity in the states of Mizoram and Manipur (PHOTO:wikicommons). Burma will supply 100,000 tonnes of rice to India, to meet the need for the commodity in the states of Mizoram and Manipur (PHOTO:wikicommons).

By BINNY MARY PAUL

India, the largest rice exporter in the world, is set to import around 100,000 tonnes of rice from Burma, which was once the largest exporter of the commodity.

The move is a result of logistical bottlenecks that will hinder the transportation of rice to the northeastern states of India. The rice import is a preventive measure to avoid a supply crisis in the states of Manipur and Mizoram, where a railway construction project is underway.

In the absence of feasible transport routes to connect Mizoram and Manipur with the rest of India during this phase, the Food Corporation of India will import rice from Burma, which is well connected by road to these northeastern Indian states, according to a report in the Indian daily, The Economic Times.

Though what seems like a temporary arrangement, the move seems to further calibrate India’s “Look East” policy, in which bilateral relations with Burma have always been prioritized to combat Chinese monopoly in the region.

All efforts to increase India’s bilateral trade with Burma are viewed as an essential and natural strategy to increase Indian influence within a country that it shares much with, including a colonial history and a 1,009-mile border.

The decision to import rice from Burma, even despite surplus production at home, fosters a mutually inclusive economic understanding between the two countries, which are both competitors in South Asia for rice export.
The rice import also provides an opportunity for India to explore and identify the potential capacity of the northeastern states, volatile with secessionist and insurgent groups, but also shares an extensively vast percentage of its borderlines with regional neighbours. According to a report published by Gateway House, an Indian think tank, the exchange of commodities between India and Burma via its northeastern terrain will aid India in tapping into the hitherto neglected role that northeast can play in further strengthening the trade possibilities between the two countries.

At present, it is unclear whether the trade route will be via the Chittagong port or via land routes, although The Economic Times suggests the latter. Interestingly if the trade is to be via road, it will be carried out across the commonly disputed borderlines of Burma and India. The landscape of northeast India, which merges relatively seamlessly into Burmese territory, has been a belt of narcotic activity and arms trading, and is also infested with insurgent rebel groups on either side of the border.
Former Indian military commander, Rahul Bhonsle, who spearheads Security-Risks.com/South Asia, explained to DVB about the need to buckle up security at either ends of the trade routes. “In the case of the land route being used, adequate checks [must be implemented] to ensure that the [rice] transportation is not used by the criminal and militant nexus operating across the borders to their advantage,” said Bhonsle.

The increasing importance of transport routes via India and Burma as a priority was emphasised at the fifth annual Indo-US strategic dialogue. The strategic importance of building transport trade routes via Burma serves a twofold purpose for India: increasing trade connectivity; and serving as a strategic entry portal into Southeast Asia.

For Burma, the export deal with India comes at a time when the rice industry faces stiff competition from its neighbours; the Myanmar Rice Federation demanded tangible rice policies earlier this year to match the level of surplus production of other rice-exporting countries.

The latest five-year national export strategy, unveiled by the Burmese government on 5 September, has accredited rice exports to be of “highest importance” in 2014-15, reported Oryza, a leading rice industry publication..

“The [Burmese] government is planning to explore newer markets for its rice exports,” it said, part of a strategy to revive Burma’s once famed rice export legacy.

With this deal underway, India will be importing rice after almost three decades.
12 August 2014

Ready to Talk With Maoists, Northeast Insurgents: Rajnath

Rajnath Singh asserted that the Government will take all steps to ensure communal harmony. (File/PTI) Rajnath Singh asserted that the Government will take all steps to ensure communal harmony.

New Delhi, Aug 12 : The government is ready to talk to northeast insurgents as well as Maoists if they shun violence, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Monday.

Replying to a debate on the working of home ministry in the Rajya Sabha, Rajnath Singh said: "Left wing extremism is a big challenge for the country but the government will not allow anyone to indulge in violence. If they shun violence, we are ready to talk."

On the northeast insurgents, the minister said: "We are ready to talk with any extremist group under the purview of the constitution. Peace in northeastern states is our priority."

The home minister added that every Indian citizen will get identity cards within three years to end the problem of illegal migrants.

KASHMIR ISSUE
Expressing desire to bring about permanent solution to the Kashmir issue, Rajnath Singh said the government is willing to have any dialogue under the ambit of 'insaniyat' (humanity) to address the problem and favours good relations with Pakistan.

"We want to find a permanent solution to Kashmir issue. We are ready for any kind of dialogue within Constitutional framework... If necessary, we are even willing to hold dialogue within the framework of 'insaniyat'," the home minister informed Rajya Sabha.

In this context, he sought the cooperation of opposition Congress if it could help in any manner.
He said India also wants good relations with Pakistan and is ready to hold talks with that country to end the problem of infiltration.

COMMUNAL VIOLENCES
The Minister asserted that the Government does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion and blamed "vote-bank" politics for the recent incidents of communal violence and said it will not tolerate such occurrences.

Singh said, "We are aware that India is not a country of any one community, caste or region. Our government is committed to ensure justice to all on the basis of 'insaniyat' (humanity). Our concern and priority is 'rozi, roti and suraksha' (employment, food and security)."

Referring to the communal incidents that have taken place in Uttar Pradesh recently, he said, "the situation deteriorated only because of vote-bank politics, nothing else."

He asserted that the Government will take all steps to ensure communal harmony.

The reply, which lasted nearly two hours, tested the patience of Rajya Sabha members, with several of them urging the minister to conclude.

Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien also asked Rajnath Singh a few times how much time he is going to take to complete his reply.

The reply only ended at about 9.30 PM

Rajnath Singh made it a point to reply to all points raised by the members, and addressed issues ranging from insurgency, to communal harmony.

Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi went ahead to say that they will not ask the home minister any questions again, while his party colleague Anand Sharma was seen gesturing at the minister with folded hands.

When some members complained of being hungry, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury said in a lighter note that communists are habituated of being hungry, but the house must take a break so that food can be arranged for other MPs.

When the minister finished his reply, Kurien complimented him and said: "The House compliments you for replying to every member's point."
23 June 2014

Looking For A Peg


2.46litres is India’s average per capita  consumption of pure alcohol in 2010, according to WHO

2.46litres is India’s average per capita consumption of pure alcohol in 2010, according to WHO

Summary

As Kerala attempts phased prohibition, a look at how the country holds its drink

M_Id_417698_Mizoram_Grape_Festival_2013
The abstainers
Prohibition is in force in Gujarat, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland

MIZORAM
The Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act 1996 banned the sale and consumption of liquor, but permits called ‘red cards’ are issued to ex-servicemen and others on ‘health grounds’. Tourists may also bring alcohol. Though government figures say about 60-odd people have died from consuming spurious alcohol since 1996, the numbers are likely to be higher.

Rs 600-800 is the price of a bottle of bootlegged whiskey.

DRINK TO THIS:  Country liquor and IMFL are freely available at Rangvamual and Phunchawng, west of Aizawl. So when people head there, they say, “RV ila”, literally “Let’s RV”, RV being the short form for Rangvamual.

MANIPUR
Prohibition was imposed in 1991. Manipur has a tradition of ‘neshabandhis’, locals usually led by the famous ‘Meira Paibis’ or ‘Mothers of Manipur’ who went around cracking down on alcohol. A cabinet decision five years ago to reinstate liquor licenses hasn’t made any progress. The law is not imposed on some SCs and STs who are traditional liquor brewers. So locally brewed rice beer and wine is openly available at Sekmai, Andro and any Kabui village.

Rs 1,800 is the price of a bottle of bootlegged whiskey.

DRINK TO THIS: Everything from beer to whiskey to rum can be got from hidden vends. Myanmarese, Chinese and Thai beer are easily available.

NAGALAND
The Nagaland Total Liquor Prohibition Act 1989 was passed in 1990. But traditional ‘Zu’ and ‘Rohi’ liquor can be prepared and consumed. Last July, then CM Neiphiu Rio admitted in the Assembly that prohibition was a failure. Liquor flows freely from neighbouring Assam.

Rs 600 lakh per year is what the excise department generated before prohibition. The department now gets around Rs 10 lakh per annum in fines.

DRINK TO THIS:  On May 26, Commissioner of Excise in Nagaland issued an order to destroy 4,488 cases of seized IMFL. A civil society group arrived to discover that only 2,394 were destroyed and the rest were missing.

GUJARAT
Prohibition has been in force since 1960 and a 2011 amended version is called the Gujarat Prohibition Act. Foreigners and NRIs need permits to drink and can  get them at the airport. The permit lets them buy buy two units (750ml) every 10 days. A domicile can get permits only on health grounds.

Alcohol can be legally consumed at SEZs, of which the state has 22. In 2009, 150 people died in Ahmedabad from drinking spurious liquor.

Rs 3000-4,000 crore is the estimated annual loss in excise duty. The bootlegging network is said to earn at least Rs 1,500 crore annually.

DRINK TO THIS:  Bootleggers, called ‘folder’, deliver IMFL at your doorstep.
20 June 2014

The Slumdog Millionaire Architect


Hafeez Contractor high above Mumbai in a current project, the Minerva, with his Imperial Towers in the distance to the right. Credit Mahesh Shantaram for The New York Times
The offices of Hafeez Contractor, India’s most commercially successful architect, are on Bank Street, just around the corner from the Mumbai Stock Exchange. The prestige of the address, however, is undermined by the beleaguered state of the Raj-era building. In the reception area, a flat-screen displaying a loop of Contractor’s futuristic projects is mounted on a cracked, stained plaster wall. Upstairs, hundreds of designers sit shoulder to shoulder at long rows of computer monitors, packed in almost as mercilessly as on the commuter trains that ferry them to work each day. The office has struggled to keep up with the firm’s expanding work force and is perpetually under construction. Staff members were known to walk 15 minutes to the five-star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel rather than brave the employee-restroom line. Contractor has vastly increased his square footage by building a loft, but a day at the office now entails ducking through archways, dodging stray wires and ignoring the wail of power saws.

On what used to be a shantytown, the Imperial Towers now loom over low-income apartments. Credit Mahesh Shantaram for The New York Times
From this unlikely office, Contractor is helping to create the face of 21st-century India — a nation of flourishing wealth and entrenched poverty that looks, according to the economists Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze, “more and more like islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa.” More than anyone else, it is Contractor who is responsible for building those “islands.” He has done this in part by designing elaborate corporate campuses on the outskirts of cities, like his projects for Infosys, the Bangalore-based technology giant that employs more than 160,000 people. For Infosys, he built a software-development park outside Pune that features two avant-garde office orbs, which Contractor calls his “dew drops,” and a 337-acre corporate educational facility near Mysore that is laid out around a columned structure Contractor designed to look like St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. In New Delhi’s D.L.F. CyberCity, Contractor constructed a sprawling office development for blue-chip companies including Microsoft, KPMG, Lufthansa and American Express. His most famous project is Hiranandani Gardens, in suburban Mumbai, not far from the airport, where Contractor designed the domestic terminal. The 250-acre mixed-use neighborhood achieved some measure of fame when it served as the backdrop for India’s breakneck development in the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire.” In one of the movie’s more famous scenes, a character gazes out at the neighborhood’s skyline, dominated by what appear to be Greek temples stretched 33 stories into the air, and declares, “India’s at the center of the world now.”
The neighborhood, named for the billionaire real-estate-developing Hiranandani brothers, certainly bears its architect’s signature flamboyance. But what defines a Contractor project is the feeling that you are in a world apart. It houses more than 15,000 people and includes offices for more than 150 companies; it has its own school, its own hospital and its own recreational amenities, like Nirvana Park. All of this is supported by a vast system of backup power generators and sewage-treatment facilities that free the community from India’s notoriously dysfunctional infrastructure. At Hiranandani Gardens, you can almost forget you’re in a nation where 300 million people lack electricity. You certainly don’t have to worry about bathroom lines. Inside Hiranandani Gardens — taking a meeting at Colgate-Palmolive, lunching at Pizza Hut — there is little, save the auto-rickshaws buzzing down Technology Street, to remind you that you’re even in India. And that is precisely the point.

Contractor’s projects constitute a kind of alternate India, an archipelago of green zones in which Indian professionals inhabit a first world behind walls and security checkpoints, insulated from the chaos that has long hamstrung their homeland. Unlike most developing countries, India has pursued professional-services-led economic growth, opting for office parks over sweatshops. India “looks like no other developing nation,” the Mumbai-born pundit Fareed Zakaria has written. “India’s G.D.P. is 50 percent services, 25 percent industry and 25 percent agricultural. The only other countries that fit this profile are Portugal and Greece — middle-income countries.” Contractor has found his niche in building the offices where India’s professional services are produced and the residences, hotels and shopping malls where Indian professionals spend their time and money.
While the world wonders whether India, under the incoming pro-market government of Narendra Modi, can return to the blistering growth rates it was consistently posting before the global financial crisis, Contractor only obliquely acknowledges that the recent sputtering of India’s economy has affected his practice. Certain projects that would ideally be built quickly, he concedes, are instead being built in stages. Regardless, he prefers to look forward. The total acreage of an upscale satellite city he’s currently building near Delhi (when combined with a neighboring nature preserve) “will be larger than Central Park in New York,” he crowed. “Now that’s called creating history.”
In February, Contractor took me to see one of his newest projects, an 85-story Y-shaped condominium tower called Minerva that is being built atop a former shantytown. As we rose in the steel-framed, open-air construction elevator, the oft-obscured fact that Mumbai is a tropical island revealed itself, with the Arabian Sea stretching out beyond the lush, green oval of the Mahalaxmi Race Course. We ascended to the 26th floor, just a slab of concrete that was poured 10 weeks earlier. From this vantage point, we had an excellent view of the kinds of buildings Contractor is known for building in city centers — luxury high-rises set in the middle of India’s slums. To our left, next to the most expensive home in the world — the industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s $1 billion personal high-rise — were Contractor’s sleek Imperial Towers, built on the site of one of the city’s first slum redevelopments. Moving from left to right, Contractor pointed to the Four Seasons Hotel, which he worked on. “Atria Mall is us,” he continued, “and we’re doing three towers in that slum” next to a modern building with a pitched roof. Squinting out over the metropolis from this altitude, it was easy to spot the skyscrapers, but the teeming, low-rise slums — just undulating mounds of tarp and corrugated metal — were harder to locate. When I spotted the shantytown, Contractor added, “That pitched roof is also us.”

To call Hafeez Contractor Bollywood’s starchitect would not do justice to his fame. He is more like a luxury brand. The entire headline on a billboard for a new housing development in Kolkata read, “Designed by the famed Hafeez Contractor.” The architect does product endorsements for companies as if he were a movie star: computer makers (HP) and airlines (Swissair). When Indians talk about Contractor, they generally call him simply Hafeez.
Stylistically, Contractor’s buildings have no signature, save a penchant for glitz. “I always say . . . that you definitely like a woman with lipstick, rouge, eyelashes,” he told me. “So if you make your building more beautiful with some appliqués, there’s nothing wrong.” Instead of a style, what most unifies Contractor’s projects is that they actually get built. Architecture has long been described as the most political of the arts, and the key to Contractor’s success is as much his mastery of the policy levers of the world’s largest democracy as his talents as a designer. Combining the skills of an architect with those of a political operative, Contractor can read new regulations and immediately find exploitable loopholes and work behind the scenes to shape legislation that serves his business. He cultivates friends in high places, and he has learned to time his public statements judiciously. “There are several good ideas that I have announced at the wrong time,” Contractor told me. “Just before [the] election, some party accepts it and — with good fortune or bad fortune — the other party comes, and he kills it.” Most crucially, he has mastered the art of rhetoric, of phrasing his private interests in terms of the public interest.

Inside the high-rises, several million dollars buys not only granite countertops and Arabian Sea views but also electricity that never goes out and water that always runs.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Contractor’s effort to redevelop Mumbai’s slums. When India became independent in 1947, only a small segment of Mumbai’s population lived in shantytowns; by the 1990s, after wave upon wave of job-seeking domestic migrants arrived, roughly half the city’s estimated 10 million people lived in them.
The local government has long been vexed by the problem. Until 1970, the city held that informal settlements were illegal, and it sent the police to clear them in periodic crackdowns. Then it switched gears and endorsed so-called slum upgrading, adding basic amenities like streetlights and public toilets to informal neighborhoods. But between the government’s penury, endemic corruption and the ever-growing size of the problem, progress was limited. Today Mumbai’s best-known slum, Dharavi, packs a population comparable to San Francisco’s into less than one square mile of urban space. Its jerry-built structures can rise several stories, the upper floors accessible by ladders that extend down into darkened alleyways. Though families are large and child labor is rampant, the average household income in the neighborhood hovers around $60 a week.
Contractor had long supported a grand bargain in which developers would be given the opportunity to build market-rate projects on valuable land covered by slums in exchange for providing new, free housing for slum dwellers. He argued for such a policy in the media as well as in private conversations with politicians. In 1995, when the conservative Shiv Sena Party took power in elections in Maharashtra state (Mumbai is its capital), Contractor saw an opening. But it required cozying up to one of the least savory figures in Indian politics: Bal Thackeray, the leader of Shiv Sena and a political cartoonist by trade, who openly admired Hitler and rose to power by pitting Mumbai’s ethnic groups against one another. His followers called him by the honorific Balasaheb. The local press dubbed him “the uncrowned king,” because Thackeray was not an elected official but a party boss. He controlled Mumbai through a devoted following of Hindu youths that he could call upon to paralyze the metropolis with protests — or riots — if he didn’t get his way.

Shiv Sena came to power on a platform of “free housing for slum dwellers” but lacked a concrete policy for putting it into effect. After the elections, Contractor says he set his staff to work on a comprehensive study of Mumbai’s slums. His team came up with a plan to allow market-rate development of skyscrapers with extended height limits in exchange for rehousing the slum dwellers. In a closed-door meeting, Contractor recalled, he presented his proposal and got Thackeray to endorse the grand bargain over the objections of his deputies.
As Contractor spoke with me, he couldn’t hide his disdain for Thackeray’s populist pretensions. But he had a grudging respect for his ability to get things done — specifically Contractor’s own agenda. “You need a strong guy,” Contractor said.

Although he credits Thackeray, Contractor calls himself “the real architect of slum-redevelopment policy.” It’s an audacious claim, given that the policy details were worked out by a committee on which Contractor did not serve. But whatever the extent of his role, in the years since enactment, Contractor has become the go-to architect for transforming shantytowns into plots that combine low-income apartments and ultraluxury condominiums. Inside the high-rises, several million dollars buys not only granite countertops and Arabian Sea views but also electricity that never goes out and water that always runs.
Given Mumbai’s surreal inequality, Contractor’s market-based plans have made him the architect that Indian intellectuals love to hate. P. K. Das, Mumbai’s best-known radical urbanist — he is known as an architect-activist — is the nemesis of market-friendly architects like Contractor. Das rails against slum-redevelopment policy as a ruse to privatize prime plots of real estate, tarring it as the “greatest bluff ever perpetrated on the city’s poor.” While Contractor claims his structures, with their reliable utilities and sewage treatment, model best practices for the rest of India, critics like Das worry that giving India’s most influential citizens high-quality infrastructure amid India’s poverty removes the political will to make basics like reliable power and potable tap water universal. Providing basic services to the rich and not the poor bespeaks “a state of underdevelopment, not a state of development,” Das told me in his studio.

At the Infosys campus outside Pune, Contractor built two avant-garde orbs that he refers to as his “dew drops.” Credit Mahesh Shantaram for The New York Times
Following the tour with Contractor of his Minerva project, we headed across town in his chauffeured white S.U.V. to have lunch at an upscale Indian chain restaurant in a shopping mall. The busy street life passing our windows — fruit sellers hawking their produce, young rag pickers filling their giant tarp sacks with scavenged recyclables, women in abayas going about their daily chores — seemed to be far removed, as if we were watching a documentary about Mumbai’s poor from the comfort of a well-appointed theater. At the Jacob Circle roundabout, a teenager gunned his motor scooter the wrong direction around the one-way traffic circle, his helmetless friend hanging on tight behind him. “Look at this guy!” Contractor offered, more in amusement than in anger. “Bombay” — he still calls it that — “has gone wacko.”

As the surname suggests, Contractor’s family has deep roots in the building trades. Family lore has it that his great-great-grandfather helped build what is now the University of Baroda, 250 miles north of Mumbai in the state of Gujarat. The Contractors were part of the tiny Parsee community in Western India privileged by the British. By the early 20th century, Contractor says, his ancestors were wealthy industrialists, well diversified into power plants and liquor.
Hafeez was born in Mumbai in 1950, part of the Midnight’s Children generation that never knew the British Raj. Despite the joys of freedom, it was an inauspicious time to be born — and not only because Hafeez’s father died unexpectedly just 13 days before his birth. The family was foundering. The newborn Republic of India looked with disdain on the Contractors’ industrial concerns. Private power plants would have no place in Jawaharlal Nehru’s state, and alcohol would be banned in Gandhi’s spiritual nation.
But if politics destroyed the Contractor family’s fortune, under Hafeez’s savvy guidance, politics would rebuild it. After barely securing a spot in architecture school, the young Hafeez excelled. His senior project was displayed at Mumbai’s leading contemporary art museum, and he won a postgraduate scholarship to Columbia University, where he earned a master’s in 1977. Contractor came to find Manhattan seductive, but unlike many Indian professionals, he vowed to return to India rather than use the fellowship as a ticket out. “The temptation was so great,” he recalled, “that I said, ‘Graduate in the afternoon, catch a flight in the night.’ And I literally meant it. I left for my flight from the farewell dinner.”
In the India he returned to, apartments meant for low-income residents were hemmed in by a square-footage limit that was part of the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act, passed while Contractor was in New York. The legislation capped some apartments at just 40 square meters (430 square feet), but nearly as soon as the regulations were enacted, Indians found a simple way to flout them: Husbands and wives would buy adjoining units and then remove a wall to combine them. That was just the first step. The race was on to come up with a design that could conjure the feel of luxury within the still-modest 860-square-foot flats.
In the impeccably air-conditioned glass-and-steel sales office of the Minerva condominium tower, Contractor recalled how the Mumbai developer Kirti Kedia approached him and demanded apartments that included 10-by-14 bedrooms and 20-by-20 living rooms, straining the limits of the regulations before even considering necessities like hallways and bathrooms. “I said, ‘Come on, Kirti, I can’t beat arithmetic,’ ” Contractor recalled. “Kirti said, ‘Raja’ . . . he calls me Raja — raja means king — ‘that is why I have come to you.’ ” Contractor took out his red felt-tip pen and legal pad and showed me how he did it.

Starting with the living room, Contractor drew a 20-by-20 square — 400 square feet. Turning the height of the square into the diameter of a circle, a bit like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Contractor shaved off the top two corners. This little move cut some 40 square feet off the room. He applied the same trick to the rectangular bedrooms. “And I got it. I beat the arithmetic. I showed him the plan the next day. . . . This was the rage of that time!” Contractor had outsmarted the regulations by literally cutting corners. The result was the Megh, Malhar and Raag Towers, a set of organic-shaped buildings. The towers weren’t finished until years later, but commissions for other buildings rolled in, and Hafeez became a household name. A 1987 print ad showed him standing atop his latest bullet-shaped high-rise holding airline tickets. It said simply: “Hafeez Contractor Flies Swissair.”
Contractor can read new regulations and immediately find exploitable loopholes and work behind the scenes to shape legislation that serves his business.
In 1991, when an economic crisis forced India to adopt I.M.F.-imposed free-market reforms, Contractor was perfectly positioned to benefit. Foreign capital poured into the country, and domestic companies boomed. One day, Contractor was sitting in the restaurant of the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi when he spotted Narayana Murthy, a founder of the software outsourcing giant Infosys. In 1981, Murthy started the company with six partners and $250 in pooled capital; now he was a billionaire. Though Contractor had never met the tycoon before, he seized the opportunity to pitch his services. As Murthy tells the story, Contractor walked up to him and asked, “Can I disturb you?” When Contractor introduced himself, Murthy recalls, “I thought, This guy is so humble, almost a zero-ego person, and yet he is the most creative architect from India. After just a brief chat, Murthy concluded that he wanted to work with Contractor.
In the early days of Infosys, the company was headquartered in an office building in downtown Bangalore. But Murthy saw no way to expand there. The city’s transit system was hopeless. Murthy recalled telling his colleagues: “Look, if we try to expand in the city, we won’t have enough car parks. . . . We will create India’s first software campus.”
Contractor was initially enlisted to add “show buildings” to Murthy’s new Bangalore campus, including the glass pyramid television studio from which the company beams its quarterly results to the world. (Murthy told me he liked I.M. Pei’s addition to the Louvre so much that he had Contractor build him one.) Soon Contractor was tasked with designing entire campuses for the company. “We fight a very tough battle here,” Murthy mused. “We go through all this pollution, traffic, noise, and we reach our campus, and in a jiffy we are expected to satisfy the needs — the technological needs — of the most advanced customer from the first world all day. We have to create an environment where it becomes easier.” To this end, Murthy demanded all the amenities of a large city behind the gates. “It has to have bookstores, it has to have food courts,” he said, “it has to have a swimming pool, it has to have a cricket pitch.”

As Sadaf Khan, an Infosys communications staff member, told me bluntly when I arrived at the gates of the Bangalore headquarters: “This campus is a different world compared to the rest of the city. When you’re inside the campus, you might as well not be in Bangalore.”
If the goal is to conjure a “different world,” Infosys’ campuses are indisputably successful. But not everyone is happy with the results. Varun Singh, a 30-year-old middle manager, was enjoying a smoke with his team of programmers outside the gates of the company’s Pune campus when he told me that employees didn’t have much access to the recreational facilities, “because we’re loaded down with work.” His underlings stood by nodding, impressed with his candor. Working in a chic, Contractor-designed “dew drop” wowed his parents when they came to visit, Singh continued, but on a day-to-day basis, the campus irked him. The location on the edge of town was inconvenient, and after the long ride from his apartment each morning on a company bus, he still had to walk a third of a mile from the campus gate to his office. (The golf cart that I traveled in, he informed me, was reserved for visiting clients and journalists.) Singh said he would prefer Infosys to operate out of a more ordinary office building in the city center. But Murthy tapped Contractor to build exurban campuses precisely because he concluded that expanding in India’s dysfunctional downtowns wasn’t feasible.
Contractor is changing the makeup of those dysfunctional downtowns by building luxury residences alongside the slum redevelopments he advocated for with Shiv Sena. In those constructions, the two Indias sit side by side, but still painstakingly sealed off from each other. As the architect explained to me, his firm lays out the redevelopment-site plans with an eye toward keeping the slum dwellers and the condo buyers segregated. Each group is from a “separate class,” he said. “If you had it combined, neither the slum guys nor the prospective clients would like it.”
According to Contractor, prospective clients and slum dwellers alike support his efforts. At the ribbon-cutting for what would be the first slum-rehousing apartments abutting the site of his Imperial Towers, the tenants who inhabited the 2,500 huts that covered the 13-acre site conducted a religious ceremony to mark the opening. Contractor says the women put on their finest saris and approached him and the developer reverently with an oil lamp. “They were taking our aarti,” or making an offering, Contractor recounted, “giving us as much honor as they’re giving to a god. So I asked this lady, ‘Why are you doing this?’ She said: ‘Do you know what you have done to our lives? We, all ladies in the slum, cannot go to a toilet after the sun rises and before the sun sets, but you are giving us tap water, 24-hours water.’ ”
The architect Hafeez Contractor, center, with members of his staff at his office in Mumbai. Credit Mahesh Shantaram for The New York Times
The day after meeting Contractor, I visited the low-income housing next to the Imperial Towers. Beside the nine-story concrete parking garage that constitutes the condominiums’ base, teenage boys were absorbed in their game on an improvised cricket pitch. Inside a building bearing a spray-painted mural of Bal Thackeray and other local heroes on its facade, an old man was busy at an ironing board he had set up in the stairwell as an informal laundry business. Up one flight and down the dimly lit hallway, I met the seven members of the Khan family in the 225-square-foot apartment they received after the community voted to give developers the right to build the multimillion-dollar flats.

The Khans’ original home had been on the footprint of the building where they live today. Back in the 1950s, the family patriarch moved to Mumbai as this community was being carved out of steep, flood-prone jungle land that nobody else wanted. Until their slum was razed, the Khans were living in a 90-square-foot hut with only corrugated metal sheets to keep out the rain.
When I asked the Khans if they were satisfied with the redevelopment, every member of the family agreed enthusiastically. Even when they become eligible to sell their flat — after 10 years of residency, as mandated by the redevelopment policy — they told me they planned to stay. The access to jobs, markets and services afforded by their central location outweighs the temptation to part with their 225 square feet of Mumbai, which was worth, they estimated, $65,000.
In order for a developer to secure the rights for a coveted plot, 70 percent of the shantytown’s occupants have to vote in favor of that builder. Developers vie to win over influential community members, sometimes promising to sweeten the deal with add-ons. Contractor mentioned providing a free refrigerator in each unit. When I noted the rampant rumors that development companies pay cash bribes for votes, Contractor didn’t deny it. “Every country has to go through this kind of a phase,” he said. “In your country, it was the 1920s and 1930s.”
In their apartment, however, the Khans told me that there had been only one developer making an offer for their slum and that there were no handouts. The community simply accepted the baseline offer to redevelop the parcel to the minimum standards required by the law. Contractor points out that under the law, the slum dwellers’ costs are covered by the developers for 10 years. But the Khans said there were additional fees associated with the elevators and the fluorescent lighting in the common hallways. Before redevelopment, they had to pay only a 50-cent tax to the government each month; now they have to come up with nearly $9 a month. Covering that cost takes nearly every member of the Khan family pitching in to augment the $50 a month that 37-year-old Amina earns as a maid.
As for Contractor’s story of being thanked for 24-hour running water, the Khans told me they get running water for only one hour a day — 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the evening. When the water goes on, they fill up buckets to use for the rest of the day or night. Just next door, in the Imperial Towers penthouse (asking price: $20 million), the swimming pool is the size of seven slum-redevelopment apartments combined, and it is always full. Still, the Khans insisted, they were satisfied with this situation.
Contractor sees his slum redevelopments as studies in communal harmony in which both rich and poor “enjoy their own freedom, but they don’t disturb the other guy’s freedom.” But Sheela Patel, the director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers, an organization that advocates for the urban poor, considers the rehousing units “vertical slums.” In many redevelopments, she said, “the space between the [buildings] is six feet, so the first three or four floors don’t even get sunlight during the day.” Patel served as the sole NGO representative on the committee that helped redesign the slum-redevelopment policy after Shiv Sena won the 1995 elections on its free-housing pledge. “This thing of 70 percent of the community agreeing to do it, that was our contribution,” she said. “The developers were violently against that.” But, she says, in the decades since the policy was enacted, greed and corruption have rendered it “one more thing that it is done in the name of the poor but hasn’t improved the quality of habitat for the poor in the sense that it was meant to be.”
Mumbai’s best-known slum, Dharavi, packs a population comparable to San Francisco’s into less than one square mile of urban space.
“If you ask me what am I most happy about, I wouldn’t say I made a building for the richest man or that I made one of the tallest buildings in this city,” Contractor told me in the Minerva sales office, puffing his chest and flexing his biceps for comic effect. “What I’m really happy about is one fine day, I got an idea for slum redevelopment. I used to say that until we do something about the slums, we’re not going to have anything. We must have a good social-housing policy.”
But critics like the Mumbai writer Naresh Fernandes dismiss Contractor’s enthusiasm for market-based policy as self-serving folly. “Instead of building the sort of public-housing projects that have proved effective in London, Hong Kong and Singapore,” Fernandes wrote in his 2013 book, “City Adrift,” “Mumbai decided that its housing crisis should be left to the whimsies of the private sector.” As a result, only those slums located on the most desirable plots of land have proved tempting to developers. When Shiv Sena enacted the redevelopment policy, Fernandes wrote, it estimated that it would rehouse 800,000 slum dwellers. Now, nearly two decades later, it has served only 127,000.
Contractor stands by the policy and insists that even his high-end projects are not exercises in excess but models of best practices. They set standards for a developed India that the government must emulate. In talking about the potable tap water on the Infosys campuses, Contractor offered: “If Infosys can do it, why can’t the Bangalore city do it? Why can’t the Mumbai city do it?”
His voice took on a pleading tone: “If we can do it, why can’t you do it?”
Indeed, in America’s development, what began as private amenities available only to the rich — indoor plumbing, electric lighting — were eventually incorporated into public building codes and universalized. In neighboring China, the pro-market reformer Deng Xiaoping argued, “Let some get rich first,” and in the decades since his reign, even average Chinese have seen remarkable improvements in their living standards. Today 99 percent of Chinese have regular access to a toilet; in India, the figure is only 49 percent.
Some argue that if India really is following this well-trod path of development — just with a late start — the concerns of Contractor’s critics are misplaced. But China’s rise out of poverty was based on an authoritarian model that is a nonstarter in democratic India. And even America’s broad middle class is beginning to look like a 20th-century anomaly. Besides, Contractor’s projects suggest India is on a different path altogether.
India’s social commentators dismiss Contractor’s gaudy creations as real-life Bollywood sets. But taste aside, they are nothing to sneer at. Developments like CyberCity and Hiranandani Gardens are more than just symbols of India’s rise; they are a key part of it. Inside Contractor’s corporate campuses, with their private, reliable infrastructure, it’s always business as usual; outside the gates, you’re at the mercy of the nation that hosted the largest blackout in human history, which left 600 million people without power in 2012. When, for example, the Bangalore authorities initiate a multiday shutdown of their municipal water system for “maintenance,” as they have been known to do, you can still make tea with the tap water at Infosys headquarters and get back to your spreadsheet. And by permitting Indian professionals to approximate a Western standard of living without emigrating, Contractor’s residences can lure Indian executives back to world-class businesses in Mumbai and Bangalore instead of New York and Silicon Valley.
Discussing the blackout, Amartya Sen told an audience in Jaipur last January that the media neglected an important fact. “Two hundred million of those 600 million people never had any power at all,” he said. Equally notable, though, is the converse: That for the privileged few working on an Infosys campus or living in one of Contractor’s residential compounds, the generators kicked in and the lights stayed on. The Indian poor live in perpetual darkness, and the Indian rich live in perpetual light.
Sen concluded by exhorting his countrymen to “start making intelligent use of the resources that economic growth generates” to close India’s unconscionable social gaps. It is a sensible prescription. But it is not a politically pressing one in the world’s largest democracy, because the nation’s problems are no longer an issue for its most fortunate citizens. They live in a different world now, even when they are right next door.
Daniel Brook is the author of “A History of Future Cities.” This is his first article for the magazine.

Source:  nytimes.com